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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Ethel LeBlanc Palma, 1999

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Object ID: WV0022.5.001

Description: Documents Ethel LeBlanc Palma’s early life; her work as a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) recruiter stateside and a foreign mail censorer in the Pacific during World War II; and her personal life after the war.

Summary:

Prominent pre-war topics discussed by Palma include her Cajun family heritage; attending a business college in Houston, Texas; working for her uncle at a Coca-Cola bottling plant; and working for the Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans when war was declared.

Palma also describes her recruitment and decision to join the WAAC; details of her basic training and Officer Training School at Fort Des Moines, Iowa; and her activities as a recruiter in Watertown, New York, and Wilmington, Delaware, especially her speaking engagements.

Palma recalls her experiences crossing the Pacific on a converted cruise ship; arriving at Sydney, Australia, and later New Guinea; and details of her mail censoring activities, including monitoring unit morale and deciding which officers to spot check. Of particular note are Palma’s memories of Leyte and Manila in the Philippines, where she was sent immediately following the end of battles. She describes living in a Catholic school that was the site of a massacre by the Japanese; discovering two wounded Japanese soldiers hiding in the wreckage and the body of a baby burnt alive; bartering with the natives; and working with Filipinos.

Palma also reflects on her return to the U.S. aboard a converted ferry carrying former American POWs; her husband Elwood Palma’s military career; her past and present political views; the role of faith in a war zone; and her work with the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in North Carolina.

Creator: Ethel M. LeBlanc Palma

Biographical Info: Ethel LeBlanc Palma (b. 1919) of Timberton, Louisiana, served as a recruiter and mail censorer while serving with the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and the Women's Army Corps (WAC) from 1942 to 1945.

Collection: Ethel LeBlanc Palma Papers

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

EE:

Well, good morning, California, or good afternoon, whenever you get this. My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project, and I'm at the home of—is it Ethel? Now, LeBlanc was your maiden name.

EP:

That's right.

EE:

And Palma is your—?

EP:

Married name.

EE:

So Ethel Palma, thank you. We're here in Hendersonville, North Carolina, this morning, and today is Monday, November 22, 1999. So again, thank you for agreeing to do this. The first question I'm going to ask you I hope is not the most difficult one today, and that is, where were you born and where did you grow up?

EP:

I was born in a little town, a little country town in Louisiana called Timberton. It was a sawmill town just off the River Road, on the Mississippi River. I was born May 2, 1919, and I lived there for seven years, then my parents moved to a little town in the western part of Louisiana called DeQuincy. I'm what they call a Cajun from Louisiana.

EE:

Meaning there's French somewhere back in your—?

EP:

Yes. My ancestors came from around the Paris area in France, migrated to Nova Scotia, Arcadia, and then eventually ended up in Louisiana. My grandparents couldn't speak English; they spoke French. My mother and father spoke French in their daily conversation, but being good Americans, they would not let us speak French. They said, “You're in America, you speak English.” So they would always speak to us in English.

EE:

So was it your grandparents who were the first generation or were there folks before them?

EP:

My great great grandparents.

EE:

Your great great grandparents were first generation.

EP:

Yes, they came from France.

EE:

Do you have any brothers and sisters?

EP:

Yes. There were nine in my family. I am the oldest—the second child died at fourteen months, so I have five sisters and two brothers that are still living. All seven are down South in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Arizona.

EE:

What did your folks do?

EP:

Well, my mother was a mother, took care of the family.

EE:

Must have been a tough job in your household.

EP:

My father had a bottling business. In the country they called him “Pop LeBlanc” because they used to call this “soda pop.” During World War II, of course, his business was very good because we lived near quite a few military installations, so his business was quite good.

EE:

Did he bottle a variety of different kind of beverages?

EP:

Yes, different flavors, but it was all “soda pop.”

EE:

That does sound like a good business. I just was down at the Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta not too long ago, and it was a lucrative business, being in the bottling [business] back then.

EP:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

Did you graduate from high school there in DeQuincy?

EP:

Yes, I did, in 1936.

EE:

Was it an eleven-year or twelve-year high school in Louisiana?

EP:

It was an eleven-year high school, and there were thirty-five in my graduating class. From high school I was sent to business college in Houston. I graduated from a small business college; it was called Draughon's Business College. It eventually became the College of Houston, which is now the University of Houston. The reason I went to business college is because my uncle lived in the next town, and he owned a Coca-Cola bottling company there. A cousin of mine was the bookkeeper and did the office work, but she was getting married and didn't want to work anymore. So my uncle asked my parents to send me to business college so I could take her place, which was very good in my case because in those days there were very few jobs for women.

To have a job waiting for you was very special. I worked for my uncle for two years, and then the big city beckoned me. A friend of mine—well, she was really a cousin, a distant cousin, invited me to come to New Orleans to live with them. I left DeRidder, which is the next town to DeQuincy, and I went to live in New Orleans.

EE:

This was in '39?

EP:

'39.

EE:

So the business college was a year long. When you were in business college in Houston did they have a dormitory or did you stay in a boarding house?

EP:

No. I stayed at the Y. I lived at the YWCA the time I was there. After school I started with part-time jobs to get used to working and to earn a little money to help out, because my parents were poor even though my father had a business. With such a large family, any little money I could earn would help. After I went to New Orleans I worked there for a few years, and then, of course, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps [WAAC] was being formed. I was having lunch with two friends one day. Since I worked for the War Department at the time, the U.S. Engineers—

EE:

This is what you started out doing in New Orleans?

EP:

Yes. Yes. Working for the U.S. Engineers.

EE:

Were they the ones in charge of doing the levees?

EP:

No. No. At the time I joined the U.S. Engineers they were buying the land to build airports and air bases.

EE:

In other words, they were already getting ready for war.

EP:

They were getting ready because things were happening in Europe at the time.

EE:

Was that something that was part of your daily conversation, then, at the War Department about what was going on overseas?

EP:

Yes.

EE:

Most young people did not get clued into the war, I don't get the sense, until after Pearl Harbor, but you sort of had a sense of what was coming?

EP:

Yes, we knew what was going on. Then the U.S. Engineers that I worked for started buying more land for installations. We were traveling around, the state—of course, you could travel in one day and go a distance. We'd leave early in the morning and travel, as you did from Greensboro, about that distance.

Anyway, I was at lunch one day, and I told the girls that I was having lunch with, that I just heard they were starting a Women's Army Auxiliary Corps and women would be able to go in the service. I said, “That sounds rather interesting to me.” Without the other services having started yet, one of the girls said, “Oh, I'd like to join the Marines. I'd like to be a Marine some day.” The other one said, “Well, since you two were thinking about those services, I'd like to join the Navy.” So believe it or not, within the next two years, all three of us were going to be in those different services.

EE:

Wow.

EP:

Yes. So, of course, of the three I was the only one that did have overseas services because in those days the Marines and the Navy didn't send their women overseas. I joined the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps when it was started. In fact, they were preparing a troop train to leave New Orleans so they were making quite a recruiting drive at the time. This was in 1942. So they gathered us all together to—well, I actually had talked to the recruiter before the holidays about joining.

EE:

Let me ask you because the timetable's interesting because they started talking, I think, in the paper—I don't know if it made the paper. I know that Congresswoman Rogers, I think her name was, in '41, before Pearl Harbor, suggested that they let women in the army. They didn't act on it. Then Pearl Harbor happens, and that bill passes. This conversation, I assume then, was after Pearl Harbor, since it was—

EP:

It was.

EE:

It was on Sunday. Do you remember where you were when Pearl Harbor was bombed?

EP:

Yes. I was at a restaurant. A group of us would get together and have breakfast after church, and that's where we were when we heard the news. It was probably a while after it really happened because we didn't have television and you didn't have the communication that we have now. While we were sitting at the table having breakfast somebody came in and brought the news. It was a short while after that that I started thinking about the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. I had talked to the recruiter, and she said, “Why don't you go home for Christmas and be with your family, and then we'll get the paperwork done when you get back,” which is what I did.

EE:

So this was Christmas of '42 that you went home. I'm curious. If you were working in the War Department in December of '41 and you go into work the next day, on the 8th, do you remember what the conversation was like that morning at the War Department?

EP:

All I can remember was pandemonium. People were frightened. Actually, it came as such a surprise to us. We just were not expecting something like this. You heard about the war in Europe, but we felt that was so far away. It was over there, and it wasn't affecting us that much. But then, when Pearl Harbor was bombed, that was a different thing. It was hitting home.

EE:

Did they stop work that morning and let you hear the president's radio address?

EP:

Oh, no one did any work. But we did hear the president's speech. I went to work that morning, but no one worked—in fact, most of that week very little was accomplished because people's lives were changing. Some of the men that I worked with were reserve, and the services began calling them right away. So the whole—

EE:

It was a scary time.

EP:

It was a scary time. I don't think we can really—we remember that it was a scary time, but you were almost numb, and it was a feeling I hope no one ever has again, that nothing like that will ever happen to us again. Even though Hawaii is part of the United States, and we've been to Hawaii, it's still quite a distance away. It was like it was another country that they had bombed. Even though we knew it was us, it was not like the mainland had been touched yet. It was a sad time, especially when you heard the results of the bombing.

EE:

Did you have any friends who were in service? I guess people you were working with were leaving that year before you joined.

EP:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Some of my high school classmates were killed at Pearl Harbor. I saw their names on the wall in the cemetary when we visited Hawaii in 1975.

EE:

And you said before we started the interview that your dad had made some comment about wishing that he had some—

EP:

Sons to go and fight for his country. I guess I was a women's libber way back. I felt also that women could do just about anything, that we could serve our country the same as men could.

EP:

How did your bosses at the War Department feel about your decision to join?

EP:

Oh, they were very pleased. They were very proud of me. In fact, I went back to visit them several times, as a private and when I became an officer. I think they were very proud of me, very happy with what I had accomplished.

EE:

Not everybody had that good a reception after joining the service.

EP:

Some of them said, well, we're too old to serve. They knew, of course, that women wouldn't be fighting. They knew that we'd be doing mostly administrative work, but it was work that needed to be done.

EE:

You joined in what, the winter of '43?

EP:

No, '42, December of '42. But we didn't leave for Ft. Des Moines until January of '43. I was in, well, close to three years. I was overseas almost two years. I have to tell you a little story about the troop train I went on because this was quite an exciting adventure. Of course, being in January, I had never seen snow and neither had the women who had joined who were on this troop train.

We knew we were going north so we said to the conductor, “When we get to snow, would you let us see snow?” So in the middle of the night, one night, the train stopped and the conductor said, “Okay. Everybody out.” So we put on our heavy topcoats that we'd been issued and our galoshes and knit caps and we went outside the train and threw snowballs at one another and had the best time, then got back on the train, went back to bed and went on our way to Fort Des Moines, Iowa. So it's something I'll always remember. It was kind of an exciting time.

EE:

You talked about the conversation at the table, and this was, I guess, before they even had choices. So unlike some of the folks I talked with, the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—Navy] and the Women Marines weren't really an option. If you wanted to do something right off the bat, it was the WAACs.

EP:

The other girls were not ready for service. They also didn't like army uniforms. This is a picture of one of the girls.

EE:

Oh, okay. Her summer whites. Looks good. Was it word of mouth or were they doing radio advertising, things in the paper?

EP:

It was the paper.

EE:

How did you find out—?

EP:

The paper. The New Orleans Times Picayune.

EE:

The paper was how you found out about it.

EP:

Yes.

EE:

And when you went to see a recruiter, was that recruiter stationed at the regular army recruiting office or the post office?

EP:

It was in the post office. It was the regular army recruiting office.

EE:

But there was a woman that you talked to?

EP:

There was a woman, yes. I didn't realize that they had started, I guess, recruiting women and stationing them in cities, larger cities, at the time, to be able to get women.

EE:

You had been in Houston on your own for a year, and you had been in New Orleans so this wasn't your first time away from home like some women were. I imagine it might have been your first communal living experience.

EP:

It was, and it was my first time away—away from home.

EE:

Away from anybody you knew.

EP:

That's right. I had been in Houston, and I could go home for weekends, and my family could come and visit. Even in New Orleans as I had a lot of relatives there, so going to Des Moines, Iowa, was another world. In the wintertime in the type of living that this was—of course, coming from a big family, I had been prepared for living in crowded conditions.

EE:

Right. That was your bathroom experience. That wasn't anything new.

EP:

Well, when I was growing up we didn't have indoor plumbing at first. We had to go outside. Being the oldest, I still had to share a bedroom with three sisters. We had two double beds in the bedroom. So living in barracks—first of all, they weren't barracks. They were—Ft. Des Moines was a—I forgot what it was at one time.

EE:

A cavalry post, I think.

EP:

Yes. That's right. It was a cavalry post. Our barracks were really nice brick buildings with screened front porches and indoor plumbing. They were comfortable, as comfortable as you could have, being in service. The only thing, being the wintertime, we had to get up at four o'clock in the morning and in formation to go to the mess hall, which was a distance away, to get an early start at the day because our training was quite involved and we had a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time.

EE:

Some of the WAACs I've talked with complained that they didn't really have the uniforms when they got there, they didn't quite know what was going on. Was that your experience?

EP:

Yes. They didn't fit. I think they gave us men's overcoats and men's hats and gloves. Oh, we—

EE:

A rag-tag group.

EP:

It was a rag-tag group, it really was. Another experience that was mind-boggling was walking in formation and having to drill in formation. You know, there was strict discipline there. Although we had a mother that was a strict disciplinarian, this was way beyond, a different world.

EE:

How many women would be in your barracks, about forty women?

EP:

I don't exactly remember, but I would say forty or fifty. We had double bunk beds. I was fortunate to get a lower bunk, because you had to climb up to get up on the top bunk. We had to scrub floors, which was another experience. Having lived fairly comfortably in New Orleans—I had lived in a boarding house—by the way, when I was working I was making fifty dollars a month, and it was five cents to ride the streetcar. It was eight dollars a week for room and board so that didn't leave a lot of money for clothes.

So what I would do—this is back tracking a little bit—what I would do is buy material on sale, cut out fabric to make my clothes, then I'd get everything cut out and pinned together and basted as much as I could and I would rent a sewing machine for a dollar a week, a portable one, and I'd bring it in my room—

EE:

Make your clothes that way.

EP:

—and I'd make my own clothes, even make my winter coats. Well, that's the way we did things in those days. We didn't have the money to go out shopping. But anyway, when I was in the army, of course you couldn't do that so you just wore clothes that didn't fit. They said, “You'll eventually get clothes that fit. Right now you have to make do.”

When I finished basic training as my first assignment I was sent to the Second Service Command, which was in New York City, New York State, that area, the Northeast. I had always wanted to see New York. I didn't expect to see it in this way. So I was there—

EE:

Did you ask for a specific kind of assignment?

EP:

No. We didn't—

EE:

Didn't have that option?

EP:

You didn't have that option. You were sent—

EE:

Let me ask you one or two questions about basic before we leave that altogether. When you joined you didn't have a particular kind of work that you wanted to do in the service? You weren't given an option?

EP:

No. No. You didn't—they gave you an IQ test, to see for what you would be best suited. So during basic training, I suppose they would see different people in different jobs and that's how they would be put. They did ask me one question. They wanted to know if I wanted to go back home and serve. I said no, I would prefer going away from home to see the country. So I was selected to be sent to New York, and I was told I would have some training in recruiting, as they said that they felt I put in a good appearance in my uniform.

EE:

As rag-tag as that uniform was.

EP:

Well, eventually we were issued nice uniforms. We received skirts, jackets, coats, shoes, hats and olive drab underthings.

EE:

So you were in the city proper?

EP:

I was right in New York City. My first day there I had the biggest surprise of my life. You know the U.S. Engineers I worked for; I told you that some of them were reserves? I met one of my former bosses on Times Square.

EE:

Great.

EP:

Well, I think the reason he saw me was because we were asked to join a bond rally—they were selling bonds at that time and my girlfriend and I that had both asked for New York were asked to come up on a stage. Of course, we were a curiosity, but they wanted us to be seen. So we were asked to come up, and they introduced us. Of course, my ex-boss was in the crowd. [laughter] It's so funny. He didn't know I'd joined. He left before I joined and his outfit called him on duty.

So anyway, he showed us some of the interesting places in New York. They had a Japanese submarine there, a one-man submarine that they had captured. The Japanese had a one-man submarine that was like a torpedo. They knew they'd die, but they would steer it to a ship that they were trying to torpedo. It was captured and they had that on display where they sold bonds.

EE:

How long were you in New York, just for a short period of time?

EP:

Oh, just a short period of time, about one week. Then I was sent to a place called Watertown, New York. That was in February 1943.

EE:

Let's see. Watertown is where my dad took his winter training so I know what the snow was—when he was in the service that's where they sent everybody to get snow trained.

EP:

Well, I wasn't prepared for the kind of snow they had, fifty inches of snow. When we traveled, we used public buses. Anyway, when I arrived in Watertown—well, this other lady, young lady, and I were assigned together in Watertown. We were two enlisted women. We were called auxiliaries at the time. We walked into an office and this older man, who was in the army, had been in recruiting for several years. He just ran the recruiting office. He says, “I'm so glad that they sent you girls to help me out because we're getting rather busy now.” We kind of chuckled a little bit because we knew we were going to replace him. He said, “I'll never be replaced. I've been in this too long.” So about two days later he received his papers transferring him.

EE:

Were you freeing him to fight or just to go someplace else?

EP:

Well, he was getting up in years so I don't think he was sent someplace to fight, but I think he was sent—I don't know where he was sent, but he was not on recruiting anymore. This was going to be our job.

EE:

You were recruiting both men and women?

EP:

Men and women, yes. We were invited to have our own radio program on WATN and WTTN, which are the two radio stations in Watertown. Our biggest problem other than the weather, being on recruiting in that part of the country, was the fact that they were many Canadian women that lived in the United States. They worked here but were not American citizens, and they would come to join, and we would have to see that they would receive their citizenship papers before they were able to join the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. So we would travel by public transportation around that part of the country, to Messina and—I can't remember the names of other cities but I remember Messina because it was right on the St. Lawrence River and near Lake Placid. We traveled around that part of the country every other week.

EE:

When you would travel around to recruit, what would your work consist of? Would you be manning post offices?

EP:

No. We would mostly have speaking engagements. What we were trying to do was to educate people as to what our purpose was, and we would be invited to women's and men's organizations for speaking engagements. We'd be invited to Kiwanis clubs. In fact, I just saw a little article in here where I spoke in front of a Kiwanis Club group. I remember that particularly because my husband was a member of Kiwanis for many years.

EE:

That sounds a little different from what you might have expected joining up. How comfortable were you doing public speaking?

EP:

Well, at first I wasn't, but then I—we just told why we joined. We knew there would be a transition. We knew there had to be more women coming in so we knew we were serving in a way. It wasn't what we expected, but in the army you do what the army tells you to do, and that was indoctrinated into us. You don't ask questions.

EE:

The only other recruiter I've talked with is somebody who recruited for the WAVES and I was surprised at the number of men's groups that she talked to.

EP:

Yes.

EE:

Think about it. We had to convince daddies to let their babies go.

EP:

That's right.

EE:

And I guess for the WAACs, when you were doing it, you probably had the extra problem of—it was about the time that all the good rumors were circulating about the WAACs—

EP:

That's right.

EE:

—and about the moral fiber or lack of it or whatever.

EP:

Along the way, a little further along the way. Of course, at that time, we were—those rumors didn't bother us that much. We didn't hear too many of them. But later on it became a problem where we had women arrested. I'll tell you about that a little bit later on. I was in Watertown, oh, not too long, about two or three months, and then the young lady that I was working with, the other WAAC, one day talked to our commanding officer, who traveled around. We had an officer, but she wasn't in our office. She had a central headquarters, and she would travel around, and look in on us occasionally. The other young lady said, one day, when our officer was there, “I'd like to apply for Officer Candidate School [OCS].” So the captain said, “Well, Ethel, why don't you apply also?”

I said, “Well, I have a feeling I didn't do well enough on the IQ test.”

She put in applications anyway. To my surprise, I was accepted but the other girl was not, therefore I went back to Ft. Des Moines.

EE:

What was your rank before you went to OCS?

EP:

I was a corporal. I had a promotion from private to corporal therefore, when I went to OCS I was a corporal.

EE:

Basic was four weeks and OCS was another four weeks, is that how it worked?

EP:

That's—pretty much.

EE:

When you were at either basic or OCS was your group integrated at that time. Did they have black women as well as white?

EP:

Oh, yes.

EE:

Did you have black women in Officer Candidate School?

EP:

In fact, my bunkmate was an Indian, full-blooded Indian, a very nice girl, and we had blacks, and we had Indians. We had Hispanics. As long as they passed the physicals and the IQ test, well, then, we would take them. So I was in the 36th Officer Candidate class. They had thirty-six before me. Everything went well. It was like a crash college course, I guess. We had psychology. We had things to help us along. Of course, I didn't know what I'd be doing after that.

But they had at the end of your schooling something they called the “murder board.” Certain ones were picked from that class to go before a panel of officers. I think maybe the fact that I was called to go before the murder board was the fact that I had been on recruiting and didn't have the experience that some of the women had that had been stationed on army posts, the drilling and things like that. So I didn't do too well in that. We had to march our unit to the mess hall, and one time I gave a wrong turn and we ended up in a ditch instead. But that happened to a lot of us.

I had to go before the murder board, and that was agony, waiting your turn to go because there were, out of a class of forty or fifty, maybe about half a dozen were called before the murder board. They would ask you questions, so after they finished asking me questions that I answered, they said, “Well, have you anything to say?”

I told them my feeling about wanting to serve my country, and I said, “That's why I'm here.” I guess they liked what I said because I passed the murder board and I became an officer. On graduation day my mother and one of my sisters. Mercedes, came up to Iowa from Louisiana to attend my graduation. One of the scary things was that you didn't know till graduation day if you would graduate, especially those that went before the murder board. When they called your name at graduation, you knew that you were an officer, but until then you didn't.

EE:

So you were just hoping for your mom's sake and your sisters' sake. You said, “Please, let me get through.”

EP:

I don't know, it's been so long ago. But that was quite an exciting day, and it was a great feeling, becoming an officer. When I had my papers, my orders as they called them, it was back on recruiting. I was sent first to Trenton, New Jersey, and then I was sent to Wilmington, Delaware.

EE:

How long were you in Trenton? Just a short time?

EP:

Oh, just about a month, I think. I helped set up the office, get the enlisted women started. It was about that time we became the Women's Army Corps.

EE:

So unlike Watertown and Wilmington, you were handling just the women recruits?

EP:

Yes. We were just doing women. I was sent then to Wilmington, Delaware, which was an exciting time of my life, as I had an assistant, an enlisted woman that was assigned to me. We traveled around the state, and were asked to lead a parade one day, a bond parade, and walked with the mayor. We had some exciting things happen to us there. But the most exciting time was the time we had to go to Dover, Delaware.

EE:

Was that an Air Force base then?

EP:

No. This was towards the shore. It was Georgetown. We went to Dover, but then we went to Georgetown because it was closer to the shore. We had two speaking engagements there. People would call the office and say, “We'd like somebody to come and speak about the WAC [Women's Army Corps].” They knew we were looking for speaking engagements, so the little theater in that town, the movie house, invited us to come and speak between the movies to educate the women as to the purpose of the WAC.

Then the high school was having its senior class play, and they said we would be welcome to put up a little booth in the lobby of the high school and speak between the acts. So we had made reservations at the little country hotel that night. It was a little wooden building. I asked my assistant which one she would like to attend. She said, “It doesn't make any difference to me. What would you like?”

I said, “It doesn't make any difference to me. Let's flip a coin.”

Okay. We flipped a coin, and she got the theater and I got the high school. Well, we had gone over to a post, an army post, to borrow a car because we had traveled by bus. We were loaned an army vehicle to get around. I had met the colonel, the head of the post there. The principal of the high school where the play was going to be had reserved a section for the officers from the small unit that were at the show, the colonel and maybe twelve officers. So the principal said to me, “Well, there's a seat with that group of officers. You'll be sitting with the army officers when you get through with your duties.”

I said, “Well, fine.”

So the colonel said he'd be saving a place for me. Anyway, when I went to get my seat one of the officers moved over and I was sitting between two officers. The colonel said, “You can't sit between those officers. They're both married.” So he said, “You come over here and sit by me,” and he had another officer on one side of him, a Lt. Palma. At the intermission I did my [recruiting] thing, and after the play the colonel said, “Well, I've invited the officers over to my house to have something to drink so would you like to come over?”

I said, “Well, I can go, but I have an enlisted woman. I'll have to stop by [the hotel] and tell her that I'll be going,” because she couldn't go, as enlisted persons cannot fraternize with officers. The officer I was sitting next to is the man I've lived with for fifty-five years. [laughter]

EE:

That's wonderful. Yes. First time you laid eyes on him. So it was a pleasant first meeting, then?

EP:

It really was. We had quite an evening, and they brought me home afterwards. When I returned to the hotel the doors were locked. You know, they “pull in the sidewalks” at nine o'clock in those little towns. We had to throw rocks at the window on the second floor and wake my enlisted woman to get her to come down and open the door for her commanding officer.

We had a lot of good laughs over that. When the colonel would come into Wilmington, where I was stationed, he'd bring Lt. Palma all the time. Eventually, the lieutenant started coming in alone. So we saw each other for three months that I was stationed in Wilmington before I received my orders to go overseas. First I received my orders and was sent to Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia, to get pre-overseas training. That's the last we saw of one another before I was sent overseas.

EE:

When was this? Was this late '43, early—

[End Tape 1, Side 1; Begin Tape 1, Side 2]

EE:

That article says '44.

EP:

Yes.

EE:

Yes. This was when you all got there, May 13, 1944. You were in the first contingent of the WACs to go there.

EP:

Yes, that's right. It's hard for me to remember dates.

EE:

Ft. Oglethorpe is where they'd teach you how to use a gas mask and—

EP:

That's right, yes.

EE:

—how to make a something, I guess, out of nothing. What were you told? Do you remember what you were told in advance as to what your living conditions were going to be like?

EP:

Well, no.

EE:

I think they were still making up the rules on how to use WACs, weren't they?

EP:

Yes, I think so. The reason we were being sent over was to censor mail. I was with a group of linguists. I'm French, and I could translate French.

EE:

So you did use it at home. You knew enough of it to—

EP:

That's right. I could read it and translate it, but I couldn't speak that well because my grandmother couldn't speak a word of English, but she wrote in French and I could read her letters. That's how I really learned to translate, in writing. I was seventeen when she died.

They found a group of women that together could translate just about any language, and we were being sent to the Pacific—we were sent to Sydney [Australia] first because Australian civilians were censoring the mail. Then, when the services started moving up, the war started moving up to New Guinea and Biak and Leyte, they couldn't send the civilians. So that's where we came in. They would have had to have men do it so this is a way we replaced men that would have been sent up. We were in Sydney just a few weeks, and it was such a surprise-such a beautiful city—well, it took us fourteen days to go from San Francisco to Sydney.

EE:

Fourteen is a pretty quick crossing.

EP:

It's a fast crossing, fourteen days.

EE:

You must not have been doing many zig-zags.

EP:

No, but we were traveling pretty fast because—only once did we have to stop, and they turned all the lights and all the motors off because they had a signal there was a submarine somewhere in the area. That's why they got to Australia as fast as they could, because there were submarines all around. The Japanese—

EE:

Tell me all about that trip. How many WACs were on this particular ship?

EP:

A hundred.

EE:

So you were surrounded by a bunch of men again.

EP:

Oh, and this was [formerly] a cruise ship. It was the U.S.S. America, and the navy had renamed it the West Point. We had nice rooms, staterooms, but the men didn't have the luxuries that we had. We felt very bad about the fact that the men were sleeping on the decks in sleeping bags.

EE:

And you were what, two to a room or something?

EP:

Yes, we had two to a room.

EE:

That was pretty nice.

EP:

And we had beds to sleep in. But the navy was very rigid in their orders that we had to dress in full-dress uniforms every day, our jackets—well, we didn't have to wear our hats, but we had to wear our jackets, ties, skirts.

EE:

Decorum was going to be upheld.

EP:

Yes. To go to meals we had to dress up. The day we crossed the equator they allowed us to leave off the jackets, but because of the heat so many were very sick, since they had to dress that way. It was a pleasant trip anyway. I think the fact that there were women on board helped the men enjoy the trip more. We were up on second deck so we could talk with them.

Even though we were officers, most of us were officers, we had enlisted women to be able to help the cooks and people to man our units. But I think it made it a little different for these men, the fact that there were women on board. They got a big kick out of that. The day we crossed the equator, of course, they had the usual celebration—King Neptune was crowned with a mop on somebody's head, you know, he was the king. You just kind of forgot that there was a war going on for a while. I celebrated my 24th birthday the day we crossed the International Date Line—May 1, 1943—then it was May 3, as you lose a day when you cross it. One of the ship's officers was from my hometown so he gave a party for me at midnight. I still have a wineglass from that party.

When we landed in Sydney, of course, the whole town came out. It was just—it was a royal welcome. What was so strange to us, there was a big dinner party in a big ballroom that night. We hold our fork in our right hand to eat. The Australians use a fork with their left hand.

EE:

Turned over.

EP:

Yes, upside down. So at dinner we were watching one another eat. I don't remember what we ate.

EE:

A food traffic jam could have occurred, left and right.

EP:

Yes. I don't know whether I should say this or not, but we saw a mixed race couple, and it was kind of a surprise. Of course, coming from the South, I'd never seen this before. We found out later that the black soldiers had told Australian women that they had to take something to make them dark, they were night fighters. [laughter]

EE:

In other words, this was just temporary camouflage, don't worry about it.

EP:

There were a lot of things that went on like that. We laugh about it now, but it was serious then.

EE:

Well, it was war time, and people do strange things.

EP:

Yes. And then, of course, when we left—we stayed two weeks in Sydney, and it was May, and this is their wintertime. It was so cold, and we thought we were going to the tropics! Everyone had sent all their heavy clothes home. I had brought an electric iron with me, and the way I warmed my bed at night—we did have electricity—I would plug in my iron and put it under my blanket to warm the bed. It was—I'll tell you, we were very cold.

A week later we were put on a narrow gauge railway. We called it the “Toonerville Trolley.” It was so old fashioned, you wouldn't believe it. We went from Sydney to Brisbane, through the mountains—I never realized Australia was so mountainous—on this little narrow gauge railway. That was our troop train. We spent just a few days in Brisbane, and they had a boat waiting for us, and it was the strangest looking boat. I don't have a picture of it. I wish I did. I have it in my mind. It was like a large flat houseboat and it took us four days to get to New Guinea. We slept in sleeping bags on the floor. It didn't have accommodations, but we were fed. We went along the Great Barrier Reef, and that was an interesting experience.

When we arrived in New Guinea it was late at night, and of course, the natives are dark, but I guess the navy had gotten there ahead of us and had told the natives that they had to dress a little bit more than they were dressing. [laughter]

EE:

Gradually ease these men into this vista.

EP:

Yes. Living in New Guinea was very interesting. Our barracks was more like a prison. They had—

EE:

You were right there in Moresby, Port Moresby, when you came in?

EP:

Well, on the outskirts. We landed in Port Moresby, and the only thing left of Port Moresby was a Catholic church, a white stucco church, and native villages. Everything had been destroyed. I don't think there was much there anyway. We were taken a few miles outside of town, where they had set up our quarters. We went into a fenced-in area, and they had burlap all around the fenced-in area. There was a gate with a guard.

EE:

That was to keep the men from looking in at the women?

EP:

Well, yes, not only service people but natives. They were curious. And to keep the kangaroos and the wild beasts out, too. They had a lot of animals going around. Where we lived there were two buildings which housed us, enlisted women in one and officers in another. Each had a tin roof, had tarpaper sides with screens, and we had it divided into sections. Well, they had walls and there were two to a room. You had a cot with mosquito netting, and it wasn't white, it was olive drab mosquito netting that you had to tie down to keep little creatures from getting into the bed.

EE:

Lots of creatures in New Guinea, from what I understand.

EP:

A lot of creatures of all kinds.

EE:

I assume that when you got to New Guinea it wasn't cold anymore.

EP:

No. No, no, no. It was very warm in New Guinea, but we always had to wear long sleeves, long pants and high top shoes with leggings, because of malaria, and we had to take Atabrine every day.

EE:

That's the one that makes your skin turn yellow?

EP:

Yes. We didn't realize we were all yellow until I got home and got off the train and my mother said, “My gosh, you look like a lemon.” [laughter]

EE:

Everybody else had the same interesting color. You thought it was the sun or something.

EP:

No. It was the Atabrine. Then we censored the mail there. I was put in charge of sorting the mail. I had enlisted women in my unit and we'd sort the mail according to language. Service people had to write on the outside of their letters in what language they were writing, because they were allowed to write home in any language. You've probably heard of V-mail. Well, there was a unit right next to us that was a V-mail unit, from that, we'd get mail to be censored as well as the regular mail. We would spot check.

EE:

What was the difference? Tell me. I've seen the V-mail. When would you use V-mail and when would you use something else? What was V-mail specifically for? I know it was shot down with as little—

EP:

Well, practically everybody used V-mail. It was just quicker. If you wanted to write more or less a short letter—

EE:

Just to say, “Hi, Ma, I'm doing fine.” That's about all.

EP:

Yes. You couldn't write too much because they were small.

EE:

And those were not as censored or were censored in a different way, or how did that—

EP:

Yes, they were censored also but letters were so short, censoring went faster. I wish I had kept one.

EE:

Well, I've seen one before, kind of white with orange lettering on it. You'd fold them up. They shoot a picture of it, don't they?

EP:

Yes. They sent a tape—flew a tape back, and then they'd print it back in the States.

EE:

You'd get this little teeny envelope with a letter. Somebody told me that her mom opened it one time and said, “How'd they get a typewriter that little?”

EP:

Well, I didn't use V-mail too much because my mother's eyes weren't too good and I felt she could read a regular letter better. V-mail was hard to read, and sometimes it would be a little blurred. It wasn't the greatest. It accomplished something. It was a way of people communicating. So we would sort out the mail, and we would get the mail that had to be censored—the languages, and then we would spot check all the mail. See, when you're overseas during wartime, the officers would censor their unit's mail.

EE:

Each CO [commanding officer] would take care of his unit.

EP:

That's right. But we would spot check a unit's mail sometimes, not so much for military information that they were sending home but if a unit, like the unit that was selected to go back into Manila when MacArthur returned, we had to make up reports on the morale of that unit, what they felt about their officers, things like that, because—

EE:

It does seem a little like somebody—like spying on your own troops.

EP:

That's right, but it was important. Because you've heard of “fragging,” where men would kill their own officers? That happened during war time.

EE:

Because you could get away with it easier, I expect.

EP:

Yes. And if they didn't like an officer—

EE:

So that would be if somebody suspiciously were shot, they would go back and check mail.

EP:

Yes. And we had to find out the morale of that unit because if the morale wasn't good in a unit, they would not work as cohesively as a unit where the morale was good. That was important to know. That's another thing we did. We also would censor the officers' mail. They thought their mail wasn't censored, but it was, you know. Because they censored their unit's mail, they thought theirs would go through, and sometimes—we didn't only check for military information. You'd be surprised at what the troops would try to send home sometimes, pictures, and we wouldn't let certain pictures through.

EE:

When something was censored, you wouldn't go back and tell the person you had censored it? Just the recipient would get something wiped out, I guess, or cut out?

EP:

Yes. We never cut—we were told to never cut a letter because you may destroy the other side, and I think they came out with felt pens because of that. That's the first time I'd ever heard of a felt-tip pen. But we would just black out the information that needed to be blacked out. But I know people said they just got a letter with little holes, and I said maybe the Australians did that before we came.

EE:

I saw a picture that a woman had like this, but it was taken in Australia, but it had a cut in it, and she said, “That's where the censors cut out the photographer's name. They didn't want my folks knowing where I was.”

EP:

That's right. That's what we'd do.

EE:

You had a list of criteria, I guess, of what to censor?

EP:

Well, we were trained.

EE:

Did you get that training over there or here, stateside?

EP:

No, we got the training over there. I don't know when they knew—well, we knew what we would be doing because we were in a select group of people. When you're with a group of people who speak different languages, you know what you will be dealing with. We were attached to the Adjutant General's Office so we knew we'd be doing something with other languages. We didn't necessarily think about really just censoring the mail.

EE:

So that the civilian folks there instructed you on what to look for?

EP:

No. We had men to come and instruct us.

EE:

So they came in and instructed the WACs.

EP:

Yes.

EE:

And when you were doing this, you led a team. You showed me earlier a picture of your forty-odd Filipinos. Were they working in censoring?

EP:

At that time, I wasn't censoring mail. I was put in charge of a department where we sorted the mail according to languages and—

EE:

So that was the first time they were sorting the mail with those folks?

EP:

Yes. In New Guinea, I read the foreign mail. While I was in New Guinea I was asked to set up a sorting department because the men that were running the sorting were transferred, so they eventually put women to do that. They replaced the men.

EE:

New Guinea was part of French Polynesia?

EP:

Yes.

EE:

I think part of it was French and part was British.

EP:

Yes.

EE:

Which became later Indonesia, which is split. It's Papua New Guinea and—

EP:

Yes. We were in Papua New Guinea. Of course, the Australians—many Australians lived there. Some of the Australian officers that we knew had been head of rubber plantations there. There were big rubber plantations. They had lived in New Guinea at one time, and they had the natives working for them to tap the trees. I didn't realize that there were so many rubber plantations in New Guinea.

EE:

That much involved with it.

EP:

I know. We'd be invited to their homes for meals sometimes. Then from New Guinea, I was sent to Biak, which was a small island. They knew that I had studied—I knew shorthand, had done bookkeeping and I had been a secretary, had done secretarial work, so they asked me to go to Biak for a small unit that was sent there to do the clean-up after the fighting was over. I went over to do the secretarial work for the general that was there, and I did all his correspondence. I was there just, oh, about a month, I guess. I was then sent to Leyte. There was another group that came up. They were waiting until Manila was cleared enough so that we could go in.

In fact, we were quartered in the—what had been a beautiful church, a Catholic church, and the natives that had built the church had taken their jewels and put them in the altar. A lot of the Filipinos have a deep faith. This is important to them, so they do things like that. The Japanese came into Leyte and dug the jewelry out and then desecrated the church. It was sad to see.

I have a picture somewhere taken in the front of that church. I might have put it in one of my children's albums. Just two of us [WACs] were told we'd be going into Manila. We went over with a group of soldiers, a group of men that was being sent over, and some nurses. We had to fly over Clark Air Field. It was the old base there. We had to circle because they'd had a raid the night before, and they had to clean off the runway so we could land. When we flew over Manila, I couldn't believe that anybody was alive, to see that city after it had been bombed so much. Actually, the Japanese—

EE:

Not leaving anything behind.

EP:

We saw the shells of buildings. Anyway, we landed. The other gal and I were taken over to what used to be a Catholic school for boys, and there were a couple of nurses on the plane with us, too. So the four of us were taken over to this building. It was Maryknoll, the branch of a Maryknoll facility in New York State. Oh, the building looked great when we were out in front of it, but when we went in we were issued a helmet of water. They said, “You can't use any of the sanitary facilities because they haven't finished cleaning them.” The Japanese had come in and slaughtered the people there. The people had been dismembered, and all the sanitary facilities had been clogged.

EE:

With parts of people they had slaughtered.

EP:

Yes. When we were taken up to our rooms there were two army cots in there, but there were bloodstains where you knew children, the boys that were there, had been slaughtered, or people, I don't know who. But we heard later that—we were up on the second floor, and we heard that when the Japanese came in and they took over the school, some of the Japanese would be down below, and somebody above would throw these boys over and they'd catch them on their bayonets. There were young children there. So—

EE:

And the thing is, you probably saw enough where you—if there were any tall tales among those, you probably couldn't tell the tall tales from the real atrocities.

EP:

Well, when you saw—we met a priest that had come out alive in this thing. He got under or behind the altar. We had a memorial mass a few days after we got there. He had a mass for the people that had died in this building, because it wasn't only boys. Later on, there people came to the school to try to save their lives. The Japanese came in and were slaughtering people who were trying to hide any boys they could hide. In fact, when you went in the pews in the chapel you could see slashes where you knew people had been slaughtered.

EE:

Right there in church.

EP:

Right there in church. So I'll tell you, I never will forget that service because they had someone blow Taps. There were people from other areas that came. I guess word got around that there was going to be a service, a memorial service, and some of the people who lived in the area, I suppose, came over. But the priest told us his experience and what happened. So it wasn't only—it wasn't rumors. These were people that were there.

Eventually there were more people that came to live at the school, like we were, until we got a place to set up the base censor's office. The colonel that I was going to be working with was going to get a place for us to set up this office.

The gym of the school had been bombed, I guess, and it had collapsed, and there were just huge pieces of tin where the roof had been. Well, we had food that was put in the kitchen for us, you know; those K rations? That's what we ate. We found our food was disappearing. So it scared us a little bit so we called the MPs [military police] and we said, “Somebody's stealing our food.” They caught two Japanese men—two soldiers that were hiding under that collapsed tin roof and they were coming in and stealing our food.

EE:

I guess you felt lucky they didn't try to kill you.

EP:

Well, I think they had been hurt, and they were very disoriented. I don't know whether they had left their—

EE:

It sounds like this is the first time you had actually seen up close what this war was all about.

EP:

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

EE:

By the time you had gotten to New Guinea that area was fairly secure and there were these places—

EP:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

EE:

So you didn't have to worry about it. But here, you're coming in a place where—

EP:

Well, when I was in Leyte, there were signs, but I didn't travel around Leyte too much.

EE:

This was late '44? When were you at Leyte and then in Manila?

EP:

Yes. I left for home in October of '45. I arrived home in November, because El and I were married December the 20th, which is three weeks after I arrived home. I got home in late November of '45. So this was in early—

EE:

Early '45?

EP:

—'45, yes, because—

EE:

How good were you at keeping up with what was going on in the rest of the world?

EP:

I didn't know what was going on.

EE:

Did you hear anything about the Battle of the Bulge?

EP:

Oh, we didn't—well, we did have our military newspaper that kept us informed of what was happening—but we were surrounded by so many things that I really didn't—I wasn't aware—

EE:

Most didn't, they didn't know what else went on in the world until they got home and read about it or somebody told them about it.

EP:

That's right. That's right.

EE:

Because everybody was so wrapped up in where they were, the problems of the moment.

EP:

And it's just like coming home and people talking about rationing. I didn't know anything about rationing. And my mother would write to me that she saved these ration—and, you know, most of our food in New Guinea was Spam and dehydrated eggs and stuff like that.

EE:

People got sick of having those tired eggs again.

EP:

Well, when somebody would get a box from home at mail call, everybody would crowd around, hoping it was something good, you know? I got this box one day, and what should it be but a five-pound can of Spam. [laughter] But my mother didn't know that we had Spam several times a week. She thought it would be something different.

EE:

She thought she was sending a delicacy. Look, meat!

EP:

So you know what I did? Oh, the Australians loved it because they had good food. When we got anything fresh, fresh lettuce and tomatoes, we got it from the Australians. We'd be invited to dinner at their officers club or mess hall. So when they found out I'd gotten this gift, they were willing to give us anything we wanted for it. So we got all kind of goodies. We were invited to a party, and they'd made hors d'oeuvres with this stuff. It made good hors d'oeuvres, too. And we'd get the natives to get bananas. Everybody would get a hank of bananas. It would look like a chandelier hanging in your room in New Guinea. They had the biggest bananas you've ever seen. We'd have bananas at every meal.

We were issued cigarettes, a ration of cigarettes. I never smoked in my life, but they were good for bartering. If I went to a party like our officers or the Australians would give at their officers club, we'd be invited and I'd get one of the natives to bring me an orchid, and I'd have a beautiful—sometimes a black orchid to wear, they are priceless. They'd go under waterfalls and get these black orchids, and you'd trade a pack of cigarettes for one.

EE:

It sounds gorgeous.

EP:

But anyway, getting back to Manila, this is where we were quartered first. Then we were told that at Manila General Hospital, the people there wanted us to come to a get-together that night or one of the nights after we got there. They wanted us to be welcomed to the city. There was a party on the roof of the Philippine General Hospital with palm trees, an orchestra and good food. I said, if our families had seen us in the middle of the war and all around us was—

EE:

Bombed out?

EP:

No, gunfire. It was at night, and you could see the fighting, see the bombing and the firepower going on all around us. One night while I was there we were at a place with friends and the sirens went off and we were going to be bombed and we had to find shelters but you try to find a shelter to go to in a bombed out city, it's impossible. In New Guinea we were bombed. We were at a movie one night and a siren went off and everybody scrambled. They bombed the airport, the air base, and quite a few people were killed or were hurt.

They brought trucks around and asked if anyone wanted to give blood to go to the hospital where they put the wounded. Women went but they wouldn't take us. They took blood from the men. I don't know why, but they just felt they'd take it from the men. They found out later, because nobody could imagine where these planes came from, because they shot them down. They found out that these two—no, it was one plane—two Japanese, I guess, had been shot down on an island, and they found parts of planes and put a plane together with the parts that they found, and they had live ammunition, and that's what bombed us.

EE:

Was it a rogue sort of thing?

EP:

Yes. And that happened, I guess, in quite a few instances. Manila, where you saw these pictures with these Filipinos, was an insurance building right on the Passig River. There's a river going right through Manila. The engineers had built a pontoon bridge across it.

Our building was right across the river from Intramuras, which is the royal city, and was used during the Spanish-American War. Intramuras was here, the post office was here, just down the road was the courthouse, where General MacArthur had his headquarters, and El and I had a friend who came to Manila, and his office was right under General MacArthur's office.

I never saw General MacArthur but I heard his footsteps. He paced the floor. [laughter] This friend of ours said he paced constantly. The building where we had our office had been bombed out, and when Colonel Shaw—I just found out the commander of the VFW [Veterans of Foriegn Wars], North Carolina VFW, that his name is Arthur Shaw, and I think he's my former colonel—I'd love to find out. I don't know how. They had to clean out machine gun nests and bodies out of that building before we could use it. Then we got burlap to put over the windows for curtains. This was where we set up the base censor's office.

Across the street was Intramuras, and during the Spanish-American War it was a fort. It was made into an apartment building where people lived. When the Japanese came in they herded all these people down in the basement, in the cellars of this place, and flooded it. One thing I remember, a truck would take us back and forth from our quarters to work. A truck would come and pick us up every day because we didn't have any other transportation. We'd pass Intramuras going home at night because we'd come in from the front of it, but we'd go in the back of it at night.

Of course, it had been bombed, I guess, and there was a fire. There was a baby laying on a slab of cement. You know how you see the Christ child, his arms extended and his legs also? It looked like it was maybe a month old, and it was burned to a crisp. I said, that's when you knew what war was all about. We kept calling the—they'd put up a phone system so we could communicate, and we'd call the—I forgot what department it was—to do something about burying that baby, but there was just so much they had to do because, when we went into Manila—

EE:

Were you prepared for this?

EP:

No, no.

EE:

How did you—

EP:

And, you know, this is the first time I've really talked about it to anybody. I've never even told my family anything about my experiences.

EE:

But I can tell because it's coming back to you—we talked before about how do you prepare for something like this? You're not prepared until you get there, are you?

EP:

No.

EE:

And there's no way, I guess, you can prepare to see something like that.

EP:

But what I feel sorry for is the men that go in battle.

EE:

You had to see this, and you weren't even at the battle site.

EP:

In the front lines.

EE:

Tell me a little bit about where you were, because you were in an area that's hot, obviously, and most women in the service, as we've talked about, were stateside. I guess army nurses probably got as close to things as most women were. But you're pretty close if they're still clearing out nests of folks and if you've got Japanese stealing your K rations. How many WACs are in this group? It's just the two of you?

EP:

Yes. More eventually would come in, but there weren't many of us, maybe at the most ten.

EE:

You were in one secured building surrounded by—I guess other men were stationed nearby. You were not segregated. What was your housing like when you were there?

EP:

We were in the school for a while. Then we were quartered in another place—it was part of a hospital. In fact, there were nurses staying there, too, just women in this building. It was closer to town. We didn't have as far to commute.

EE:

The picture you showed me earlier was of Filipinos that helped you in New Guinea.

EP:

No, in Manila.

EE:

And you were sorting mail in New Guinea.

EP:

No. In New Guinea I was censoring mail.

EE:

Sorting and then censoring.

EP:

For part of the time, and then I had charge of the distributing of it, sorting it and distributing it to the departments, like the people who did German or the people who did French.

EE:

And in Manila your work was censoring again?

EP:

No. I didn't do any censoring in Manila. I was put in charge of—I had to make up a chart, and I was given the names of all the units, and I would have to get the unit's mail from the post office—well, eventually I got transportation, but I had to call for somebody to go and pick it up for me, but they had to get a certain unit's mail to bring it to our building, which was just across the river, and then the people would go through the mail from this unit and sort it if there were foreign languages in it. Then there were people who were sorting mail, just the English, to censor it. We wouldn't censor every unit's mail every time, but it was like a spot check, and then we censored officers' mail.

But it was my duty to decide which unit's mail was spot checked because I kept a record. I had a chart made of each unit and would make a record of each unit as it was done. Then, when the Navy would come in—sometimes they were out at sea for a long time—their mail was brought to us and it was censored. So—

[End Tape 1, Side 2; Begin Tape 2, Side 1]

EE:

You had doctors and lawyers?

EP:

Doctors and lawyers, professors.

EE:

People looking for work, and they were helping you do sorting. How do you feel about the Filipino people having gone through all that?

EP:

Oh, I just love the Filipinos. They were really very good to work with. Of course, I worked with more or less upper class Filipinos. Some of them had summer homes out in the country and would invite us out to their places. They were very, very hospitable people.

In fact, I had one young lady working in my department that—I just loved her. She was just such a sweet gal, and she in the worst way wanted me to come to her house for dinner sometime, and they had lost practically everything. They were camping out. But they had me over one night, and her mother had scrounged, I guess, because she knew I liked shrimp, I liked seafood, and they had lost their—well, their house, I guess the kitchen was gone. They used an unusual type of clay pot with a thing underneath it to build fire, and that's how they would cook. It was a primitive way of cooking.

But anyway, I know these people went out of their way to really make me feel welcomed and feed me well. Well, I got home that night, and I had the worst case of stomachache I've ever had in my life. I had to call the ambulance, call the medics, to take me to the hospital, pump my stomach, and I wasn't at work for two days, and that poor girl, I felt so sorry for her because she was so upset because she had made Lieutenant LeBlanc so sick. Well, I guess they had gotten the seafood that they were able to get and there wasn't any refrigeration any place, so it was spoiled.

EE:

That's right.

EP:

And I said, “Don't blame yourself.”

EE:

I guess that's why everything was dehydrated and you all were told to stick to what was—

EP:

Yes.

EE:

How long were you there in Manila? You were there until the end of the time you were—

EP:

We were there when the war ended. I know the celebration—I've heard of the celebration you had here in this country. It was a very quiet time for us. It was—I guess a time for remembering so many had lost their lives, and this had much more of an effect on us than the end of the European war. Of course, the European war ended when we were there in Manila.

EE:

Did you have celebration when the European war was over?

EP:

No. No.

EE:

People were just tired, maybe.

EP:

People were tired. I think people looked at how dearly we had paid to get to this point, but you didn't have any whooping and hollering and celebration. As I said, it was a quiet time.

EE:

Until you got to Manila, had you seen a lot of death? Had you had many people who had died?

EP:

No. No. The only thing that kind of prepared me for that—I told you I'm the oldest of nine children. The second one died at fourteen months. He had an enlarged heart, leaking valve, and the doctors had said he wouldn't live too many years. They didn't know about those things at that time.

I know my mother and father went all over New Orleans looking for somebody that could help him but they couldn't. He got pneumonia, and in those days you didn't have funeral homes, so my little brother was in a coffin on a table in the living room, and everybody was comforting my mother and father. I don't think they thought too much of what a child was thinking. I was about seven at the time, six or seven, and I remember looking in that casket and seeing my little brother with the blue nails and the blue lips. They had a net over the coffin. I was alone in that room. Everybody was in the other room with my parents. So I think that's what struck me so hard when I saw this baby in Manila. Of course, it was burned to death, but that's the only time, really, I had seen death so close, you know, but it's something that stays with you the rest of your life. Also we had a typhoid epidemic in Louisiana in 1930.

EE:

You don't need but one or two experiences for it to do that, that's for sure.

EP:

One thing I wanted to tell you about is how the Filipinos treat their dead. I've never seen cemetaries like I saw in Manila. There were several. The mausoleums are almost like mansions, and they bring food and gifts to their dead. I don't know whether they do that now, but back then they did. It's unbelievable. And they bury their dead with their valuables. When the Japanese came in, a lot of the graves were desecrated [by the Japanese] trying to get to the valuables.

EE:

I bet it's hard not to have some feelings about the Japanese, I would think, after that experience.

EP:

I know. Although I haven't met many Japanese people. You have to think that it's not all of them. We have people around here that have killed people over there. It's just at that particular time there were some very cruel things going on. Some of the stories I heard from the Filipinos are unbelievable. I had a very attractive young lady that worked in my department. I had met her parents, and they told me that during the day, they hid their daughter. There was a separation between the floors of their house. And that is where they hid her. She had to get in there and hide during the daytime during this period of time when the Phillipines were occupied. She would come out at night and eat and bathe and do the things that they—

EE:

Was it the fear of being attacked by the Japanese?

EP:

Well, young girls were not safe. They were taken away to be slaves to Japanese men. They were not safe. I came home with some treasures that were given to me by Filipinos. I gave one to my granddaughter, a pair of black satin pajamas. I call them pajamas, but they wear them as clothes, all hand embroidered, and this lady had embroidered them. She said, “I want you to have this.” She had made it for someone. Of course, at that time I was tiny. Most of my married life I wore a size ten. It's just since I've gotten older and I can't get around as well, you know, play golf and do other things like that, that I've gained weight, but I was always quite petite. So this thing did fit me. Oh, I was given scarves and doilies and things for the house.

EE:

I guess you must have left, probably, August. The war ended in August, when the Japanese surrendered. I think everybody was taken by surprise at how quickly it ended because everybody assumed we would just be invading Japan.

EP:

I know. I spent several weeks packing equipment then several weeks in a holding area waiting to come home. But that was in September.

EE:

No one knew about the A bomb.

EP:

Well, when the war ended—oh, by the way, I have to tell you I did bring home a Filipino dress that was made for me. In one of these pictures I had the dress on. It was made, all tie-dyed and hand cut, beautiful, with the fly sleeves, and it was given to me by some of the girls. Their mothers had gotten together and made it for me. But when the war ended I was asked if I wanted to come home. Since I had been one of the first ones to go over, we were given the preference of either coming home or going to Japan, occupied Japan, and I would have been promoted to captain. They said, “Well, you'll be a captain if you go to Japan.”

I said, “No matter what you dangle in front of me, I won't go to Japan. I want to go home.”

So of course I made a bad choice then because I took the first opportunity I had to come home, which was a ship. It was the USS Evangeline. There's a story behind that. It used to be a ferry boat between New York and Nova Scotia. It was like a little cruise ship. It was a very small ship. The fact that it was the first thing heading home, and I was given the choice, I said, “I want to go home on the first thing going home.”

So I was—that's the pictures you see on this boat coming home. It took us thirty days to get home, and some that waited flew home. But this was an interesting trip—I guess I'm not sorry I did it. I was in a hurry to get home because El and I had planned to get married when I got home. There's a place in Manila, it was a college, and it was called De La Salle College, and that's where our people were kept prisoners. Things got so bad at the end of the war, they were boiling their shoes to be able to get sustenance, because they were starving to death. We had a lot of those prisoners on our ship. It was very sad to see how bad they looked, but their families never saw them the way they looked because by the time they got home they had gained a lot of weight. It was a good experience meeting these people that had been under so much hardship.

EE:

But you never seriously considered a military career as an option. You wanted to get home.

EP:

Oh, yes. I had done my bit for my country.

EE:

You were in for the duration and out.

EP:

Yes.

EE:

And El, was he going to be a career military person, or was he—

EP:

No. No. He had been in six years. Of course, later on, years later, he said, “I wish I had stayed in.”

EE:

You told me before the tape started that, for the benefit of our transcript, he joined, obviously, then before the war. What did he do during his time in the service?

EP:

Well, as you know, he graduated from Rutgers, and he was an officer in the ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps], and he was very proficient in artillery, so this is pretty much what he did. During the whole time I was in service after we met he trained troops for overseas—you know, for battle. He just trained troops. And he would take troop trains to California. The only thing that I was afraid of, because at the end of the war they took troops that hadn't served, hadn't fought in the war, and sent them for occupation. We were worried that I was going to be on the way home and he was going to be on his way out there. [laughter]

EE:

Fortunately it didn't work out that way.

EP:

It didn't work out that way, but he did say later that he wished he had kept his commission because he would have been a major. He always stayed one grade ahead of me. I went overseas, but he outranked me all the period of our service.

EE:

I've had several—well, not that many actually, but one [veteran] I remember in particular said, “I made sure that I got out on Friday because if I'd stayed in till Monday I was going to get a promotion to have a higher rank than my husband, and I didn't want that to happen.” [laughter]

EP:

Well, that's the way I felt, too.

EE:

Domestic harmony takes place over ego here.

EP:

I know. This has been kind of a sore point for him, the fact I was overseas and he didn't get to go.

EE:

If you could indulge with me, because your career takes us to more places than most women in the service, there's about ten other questions in short order I think I can ask that supplement your telling about your experience.

EP:

Okay.

EE:

And I know we've gone longer today, but I think it's a good story.

EP:

Well, I don't have anything else that might be of interest.

EE:

Well, it's a good story, and I appreciate your sharing it with us in detail because I think it's in the details—you know, if it wasn't for those kind of tales, we'd just send you a questionnaire: yes, yes, yes.

EP:

I've just started doing something since—I've been very involved in the community in volunteer work—

EE:

It was ten years ago there was some article about you being involved in the VFW.

EP:

Yes. Well, I was first female post commander of a VFW post here in town. We'd never had a woman and haven't had one since, but I was a post commander for three months, and then my husband had two heart attacks and I had to resign. A few years later, then, I joined another post as it's been a little difficult for me to be active as they usually had dinner meetings.

Well, when I was post commander of Post 7467, we'd had dinner and I had asked that auxiliary if my husband could join the auxiliary because their purpose is that they are spouses of those who fought in the war. They wouldn't take my husband. I don't know whether he would have joined or not, but he was eligible to be an auxiliary because I'm the one that went overseas. So what would happen, my husband had to go sit in the car while the auxiliary would have their meeting in one room. I would go in another room with the men and have our meeting. Oh, did the auxiliary hate me!

EE:

I could imagine. Probably had more resistance as a VFW than you ever did in the service.

EP:

Right. I've done a lot of volunteer work. We've been in Hendersonville twenty-five years. I've been very active in church work, and I was a volunteer in the shelter for battered women; on the board of the chaplaincy association at the hospital when we hired our chaplain, an auxiliary for fifteen years in our hosptial. I've been very active in the community, but now I've gotten out of everything. I'm just relaxing and spending time with my husband, but I promised my family I was going to write a book, and I've just started getting my things together.

EE:

When we finish doing this I'll send you a copy of this tape.

EP:

Great.

EE:

So that would be a great start with the book.

EP:

That's great. Thank you.

EE:

It's also nice, I think, to hear people's actual voices. As somebody said, “Well, why don't you videotape these?” I said, “Well, people worry about whether they've got a good hair day or not,” and I think your voice comes through clearer. Let me ask you a few questions that we ask everybody.

EP:

Okay.

EE:

But because your location is different, my guess is your answers are going to different than some of ours. You were working with a lot of civilians, but how was your interaction with the men in the service? Did the men treat you fairly, or did you get any grief about being a woman in a place where you weren't supposed to be?

EP:

Never. We were always very well treated by the men. Never did I have anything unpleasant happen with men, but nurses and Red Cross workers caused trouble sometimes.

EE:

Even stateside as a recruiter?

EP:

Even stateside as a recruiter. No. I never had any problem. I didn't put this on the tape and I should have, the problems we had in Wilmington, Delaware, with a woman who had joined the Women's Army Corps, and I guess enough research hadn't been done on her, but that was before I was stationed there.

Anyway, evidently she was doing things that weren't acceptable, and she was discharged, dishonorably discharged, and she would hang out in bars and say unkind things about the WACs. The FBI office was right across the hall from our office so I made friends with one of the men in the FBI office and told them of our problem. They had her arrested. That's the only really unpleasant thing I had happen, and it was a woman. She would wear parts of the uniform and go in a bar and—

EE:

Intentionally try to drag down the organization.

EP:

Yes. Yes. And she had been recommended by a minister. He knew she had problems but thought the WACs would straighten her out.

EE:

You pretty much decided, for very personal reasons plus you had a man back home, you wanted to get married, start a family, not to pursue a military career, but in your case, unlike some women who were encouraged to leave as quickly as possible, you at least had the option to stay on longer.

EP:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. To help with the occupation of Japan.

EE:

What do you think was the hardest thing that you had to do while you were in service, either physically or emotionally?

EP:

Well, there were a lot of—there was nothing physically that bothered me. Emotionally it was just being homesick, and, you know, when you were overseas, just being so far away from family, and you didn't have a telephone to pick up and call. Even letters were few and far between, and sometimes we'd receive a week's mail at one time.

EE:

You appreciate that now, I'm sure, with your family being—

EP:

Yes. And believe it or not, my husband was with the Jersey Bell Telephone Company for thirty years, and we'd get most of our telephone bills paid for, so we made good use of it. But anyway, that was, I think, the hardest thing. I can remember one time especially. I was in New Guinea, and I had worked very hard to do my job, to do what I was supposed to do.

I had charge of a group of enlisted women that sorted the mail. They didn't do the actual censoring of the mail, but they sorted it, and I began having trouble with them. They were very unhappy. They were having problems where they were living. So one day I just thought, maybe I'll just go have a talk with their officer. Two officers should be able to sit down and iron out a problem. Well, this lady was not a very nice lady because she got very angry because she said I was trying to run her job, do her job. It was because their morale was affecting the job they were doing for me, for the service, not for me personally.

So she reported me, and it delayed one of my promotions. It was just a month, but it still delayed it, and that just hit me so hard. I really was hurt by that, and I never will forget, I cried and cried and cried.

EE:

It's amazing the power some people can have over you, and you're just frustrated.

EP:

I know. I know. Really frustrating.

EE:

You talked about, in Watertown, just for a second you had the experience of meeting the man that you freed to do something else, and some people, because that slogan was such a powerful one, “Free a man to fight,” have said they have run into either mothers or family members who weren't too happy about women in service because that meant that their loved one was off to combat.

EP:

Yes. Yes. We did have that, but not too much.

EE:

You didn't feel that?

EP:

I had very—being a recruiter for the length of time I was, I felt we had very little negative response to our recruiting. I think everyone was pleased that women were going to be allowed to do something, to serve. Of course, women served in World War I, too, but I guess since then not too much was said about women serving, and there are a lot of negative things about New Guinea, one thing we didn't have and we said it would have been nice to have was a beautician, you know, a morale builder. Well, they found out about that, and there was a man who was wounded, and he was a hairdresser so they sent him to us. [laughter]

EE:

That was pretty nice.

EP:

Yes. It was a morale builder, and I think it helped his morale, too, because he had a ball.

EE:

Just little touches of normalcy do a lot in war time.

EP:

That's right.

EE:

You've already described some things that were very harrowing. Did you feel afraid or in physical danger often in your time overseas?

EP:

Yes. The times we were bombed, and the time we were in this place where things were being stolen from us we felt we were in danger because there was something going on that we didn't have control over, and that scares you a little bit. But I think we all learned to take a day at a time, and each day brought a new experience. I was brought up in a very religious family, a very devout family, and I carried that with me.

EE:

So it wasn't a time that tested your faith so much as made it stronger?

EP:

That's right. In fact, my roommate was a Jewish girl, and we didn't have a synagogue in New Guinea but we did have a chapel where we'd have a Protestant service and we'd have Catholic service. So she would go to church with me. About twenty-five years later, when she lived in New York, on Long Island, and we would visit back and forth—she was a divorcee—and one day she called me and she said, “Ethel, it's taken me all these years but I'm ready to convert to Catholicism.” So she said, “Point me in the right direction,” which I did.

Then after she finished her indoctrination and everything and studies, well, she was where she was going to be baptized and make her confirmation and everything was going to be in St. Patrick's Cathedral. So I went into New York. I'm her godmother and her sponsor. She's still in New York. We haven't seen each other for years, haven't talked to each other for a long time—she's a few years older than I am—but she became—oh, and Cardinal Cook was the one that did the service that night, and it was a service just for adults who were joining the church, converting.

EE:

What was her name?

EP:

Jeane Green. I think her name was originally Greenbaum, but she shortened it to Green. So when she joined the army she was Jeane Green. She was originally from Maryland, from Baltimore, Maryland. In fact, before we moved here—by the way, this was the view from our living room window in our last home before we moved here, and a friend of ours painted it. My husband helped build the gazebo and he helped build that bridge. This lake is the headwaters of a waterfall, a 350-foot waterfall, way up on the mountain, Davis Mountain. So this friend of ours did the painting. The wall hanging on the porch, that our children made, it's all—

EE:

Scenes from the house.

EP:

—about our home that we used to have before this.

EE:

That's great.

EP:

We couldn't live in that house anymore because it was a two-story house, and after I broke my foot I couldn't handle stairs too well. So we decided to move. We've been here five years. But anyway—what were we talking about?

EE:

About Jeane.

EP:

Jeane Green. So she became a very, very devout Catholic. She said, “Well, you know,” she says, “When I was studying and I studied the Bible,” she says, “This was just like a continuation of my faith, you know, the Old Testament going into the New Testament.”

EE:

It's good to hear from her perspective. That's what it's supposed to be.

EP:

Yes.

EE:

You've taken me around the world today. You've taken me through some tough times. Is there a particular funny—you know, you're meeting with people from all walks of life when you're in the service. Is there a particular funny or embarrassing moment that stands out in your mind from that time?

EP:

Well, there are strange things that happened. The strangest thing happened after we were married, after the war. We were in church—we had some friends in Brielle, New Jersey. They lived right on the shore. We were good friends. My husband had met him through the telephone company. My husband supervised the building of telephone buildings, and this man was an architect. So they became friends, and then we became friends, you know, with his wife. They were quite a bit older than we were, but they had a big Chriscraft, a big boat, and they'd invite us down to visit.

So one Sunday we went to church, to a Catholic church that was nearby, and while we were in church—we had our four children with us, the oldest one was, I think, a senior in high school—and my husband punched me and he says—well, to backtrack, remember the colonel that got us together? He says, “I think I see Colonel Duane over there.”

I said, “Oh, no.” I said, “It can't be.”

He says, “I'm sure it is.”

When we came out of church we came out ahead, so we told the children to go ahead to the car. We waited for the colonel, and I guess, well, it was his wife with him. Sure enough, it was Colonel Duane, the one that introduced us all those years before. He says, “I live across the street, in that home across the street.”

Well, when we got back to our friends' house, which wasn't too far away, about a mile away, we told them this. They said, “Let's invite Colonel Duane and his wife over.”

So we said, “Hey, that would be great to get together with them.”

So they did, they invited them over. Well, we told the children to stay in the back. So the colonel and his wife came in, “What have you two been doing all these years?”

Well, we brought the oldest one out and we introduced one.

“Well, great. Fine.”

We brought our second son out, the third child, our daughter, out. Then we brought the fourth—

“We won't ask any more foolish questions.” [laughter]

I thought it was a good story.

EE:

Look what you have wrought here.

EP:

I know. Well, the colonel and his wife are both gone now, and a lot of the people that I talk about today are no longer with us.

EE:

But you know, in your household, like in a number of households I've visited, this is the time—you're young, in your twenties—this is the time that's memorable for most people no matter what's going on. For your generation, the war is what's going on. In your case, the war and your time in service brought you the man that you'd spend the rest of your life with.

EP:

I know. That's why people say, “How did you get to New Jersey, from Louisiana to New Jersey?” It was so funny. I'd send my father pictures of the natives of New Guinea. It got to the point it didn't bother me, you know, people without any clothes. Well, they had clothes, but men wore thongs and the women—the Navy had had them wear tops, and when they went to church—because some of them were converted and they went to church—they'd wear their tops, but as soon as they got out of church they took their tops off. There was a reason for them not wearing clothes. Sun is healing, and if they'd wore clothes, they'd get sick, they'd get skin disease. The sun would keep them healthy.

EE:

All those molds and fungus and jungle rot and everything else.

EP:

Yes. Yes. They had to go without clothes because it was unhealthy to wear clothes they wore grass skirts because—oh, and one thing, my father was funny. Right after El and I were married—well, we were married eleven months when I had my first child. I think it embarrassed my mother-in-law a little bit, but I said it's legitimate because we were married three weeks after I got home from overseas.

I was too busy getting ready for the wedding, and he was on his post. He just came back for the wedding. He was given ten days off because he was still on active duty. But when I got pregnant my father would go around town and said and said that Ethel was a little bit pregnant. [laughter] People would say that the stories he would tell about just—when I went overseas, I was in—you know, nobody was supposed to know where we were going. It was a big secret. It was the hardest thing to keep from telling my parents where I was going. I knew where I was going, but I couldn't tell them because my father shared everything. He had to tell everybody everything. So I knew I couldn't tell him. They knew I was in San Francisco when I left for overseas, but they didn't know where I was going. In fact, at first we thought we were going to the Aleutian Islands.

EE:

Because you met your husband-to-be during the wartime, is there a special song or a movie that when you hear or see it takes you right back and you say, “Oh, I remember that. I remember where we were”? Do you all have a song or things that do that to you?

EP:

I always liked Stardust, but the words, Now is the Hour We Must Say Goodbye, that was always one of my—I can't remember the name of it, and if I could sing, I could sing it, but Now is the Hour We Must Say Goodbye.

EE:

Who sang it? Do you remember?

EP:

I don't remember who sang it.

EE:

Did you feel you contributed, in retrospect, to the war effort?

EP:

I think so.

EE:

Some women weren't in jobs that gave them that feeling. I think you must have gone over there and being right there in it, I think that—

EP:

Yes. I think I'm satisfied with my contribution to the effort. I was never sorry I had joined. I felt I had contributed more than if—oh, and my second sister joined the Army Nurses Corps. My mother was so proud of her two stars in the window, the two girls in service, and eventually my two brothers—in fact, one brother was in the Army fifteen years, and he has a heart condition right now. He's not too well.

I don't know if I told you I went down a couple of weeks ago to get together with my five sisters and two brothers. We hadn't been together for a good while, and we were thinking about moving to Pennsylvania to be near family. I said, “Well, I don't know when I'll ever get together with my siblings, my sisters and brothers, because once we get up there-and we're all getting older.” I'm the oldest of the group, but three of my sisters are widows, and I don't know when we'll get together again because some of them aren't financially able to travel, and I don't know what our situation will be. After the trip I just—the trip I had from Beaumont, Texas, here a few weeks ago, I said I'd rather walk. It was very bad. There was cause to miss my flight due to imcompetence.

EE:

Do you remember where you were when you heard about President Roosevelt's passing?

EP:

I was in Manila, because that worried us. It worried us because Truman was going to take over, and I didn't care for Truman. He was a haberdasher. I thought, “My goodness. What's going to happen now?”

EE:

What was your opinion of Mr. Roosevelt, or Mrs. Roosevelt, for that matter, who was quite a personality in her own right?

EP:

Oh, yes. Oh, I think she was a very good first lady, one of the best. She was very involved. She did a lot of good, I think. I came from a part of the country that everybody were Democrats, but when I moved up North I became a Republican. [laughter] Of course, I'm very disturbed at what's happening to our government, the values of our country, the lack of values and patriotism. Even though there were a lot of complaints, you know, maybe Reagan wasn't the best president in the world, but there was something that happened to our country while he was president. I think the loyalty to our country was very high at the time.

[discussion of EE and EP's political views]

EE:

Do you remember from the time you were in the war, were there heroes back then that you admired, people that you—or heroines, for that matter?

EP:

I had a lot of them. I can't think of names right now. I know there were a lot of them. There were many heroines and heroes. The family that lost the five sons.

EE:

The Sullivans?

EP:

The Sullivans.

EE:

I think because of them the military changed their policies on where you stationed a guy.

EP:

Yes.

EE:

What kind of impact do you think—other than bringing you a husband—did the military have on your life in the long term?

EP:

[laughs]—

[End Tape 2, Side 1; Begin Tape 2, Side 2]

EE:

So according to the children, the big impact was that you became a disciplinarian?

EP:

I'll tell you, we have four wonderful children. We never had trouble with drinking, drugs, things like that.

EE:

They knew right from wrong from the beginning.

EP:

And they've all been very successful, very successful.

EE:

You've got one daughter or two daughters?

EP:

Two daughters.

EE:

Have any of them ever expressed interest in joining the military?

EP:

No.

EE:

Had they, would you support them?

EP:

Oh, yes. At the time they were growing up I guess not too much was being said about the military, and that if—I have five granddaughters—of course, one of them's married—but if any of them would wonder what they should do, I would suggest the military, because sometimes when they get out of school they don't know what they want to do.

EE:

The military, you think, serves a function for women and men as far as grounding them in what it is they want to do?

EP:

Sure. It helps them mature, helps them grow up.

EE:

We sent, as a country, for the first time, I think, back in December, a woman into combat as a fighter pilot. What do you think about that? Are there some jobs in the military that women should not be allowed to do, or should they be allowed to go wherever their abilities take them?

EP:

I think they should serve where their abilities take them. If they choose to go into any part of the service, I don't see anything wrong with a woman pilot. I think everyone should be used to the best of their capabilities, men or women.

EE:

So you're not one of those that has a worry about women in combat just because they're a woman?

EP:

No. I think women can take care of themselves, and I feel they should be allowed to serve. I think in the future, future wars are going to be more technically fought wars than in foxholes, and women certainly would be able to do those kind of jobs. I'll tell you, the atom bomb scares me and some of those countries having them, because we have so many crazies out there and they could harm us.

EE:

Well, I hope your husband wasn't waiting on you for fixing him lunch today.

EP:

He doesn't eat much.

EE:

All right.

EP:

I usually have lunch around one, so that's okay.

EE:

Well, I have exhausted these, and I've had a wonderful time.

EP:

My husband gets a little upset about my service, the fact that—you know, we're talking about things that I did that he didn't get to do, and he's very sensitive about that.

EE:

I've run into that problem before, being a man. My wife wants to go on a mission trip this spring with a group. She works for—I'll end the transcript now. Thank you for your patience. We'll continue this by—

EP:

One more thing I should tell you is that my wedding dress was made from a nylon parachute that a pilot friend gave me in New Guinea. It saved his life when his P-38 was shot down.

[Recording Interrupted]

EE:

Okay, transcriber, now that we've talked about you—no, we haven't, I just want to say formally, for the record, thank you, Ms. Palma, for sitting down with me today and sharing a wonderful career—

EP:

Thank you.

EE:

—and telling me on and off the record about a great family and a great life that you've had, with fifty-plus years with this fellow, and I thank Mr. Palma in his absence for putting up with us today. This has been longer than ninety minutes—I do know how to tell time—but it's been an enjoyable conversation.

[End of interview]